Packed with deliberately distracting quasi Hitchcockian McGuffins designed to lead gullible viewers down multiple blind alleys, Sinister begins well and presents an enjoyable creepy first half before running out of steam towards its denouement.
In between are the makings of a decent shocker that begins as one movie and eventually morphs into bits of several others.
Ethan Hawke is Ellison, a veteran crime writer specialising in after-the-event investigations of brutal murders who looks to the quadruple lynching of an ordinary suburban family to restore his waning reputation.
To inspire him he rents the house where the murders took place and antagonises the local police who fear he will target them as the ones who failed to find a child he claims was abducted and they believe was slaughtered.
What he doesn’t expect is to discover a box of old cine film that appears to show the murder – and others – being committed. Suddenly he becomes acutely aware that his latest book may end up chronicling not one mass killing but several scattered over the decades. And one culprit appears to be responsible…
Writer/director (and horror specialist) Scott Derrickson wallows through a river of influences to create this hybrid. It’s a haunted house thriller, a serial killer chiller, a snuff movie, a paranoid melodrama and a whodunit where the crimes may be down to evil children. Or it may be a shadowy figure that lurks in the darkness: something far older and more malevolent than Ellison can ever imagine.
Derrickson is fond of the dark and of using sound to crank up the scares. Much of the terror is channelled via Hawke as the father and husband who becomes obsessed with his new project. And Hawke is impressive as a man driven to the edge of madness by what he knows and what he’s not telling his wife or the law.
Sinister strives to be original but very little is these days. The fact that it peters out underlines how it fails to shore up its initial premise. In that respect it’s a cop-out – a film that promises a lot but ultimately falls short.